Othello is full of dramatic irony, suspense, and psychological complexities. One of the reasons it is so popular is its verisimilitude. The characters are true to life in that they demonstrate human strengths and flaws. The angelic Desdemona is talented and sweet, but she still stands up for what she believes in when necessary. She marries Othello against her father’s wishes. Tragically, she also stays with him even when he turns violent, as do many victims of abuse.
Cassio is a lively fellow with “a person and a smooth dispose / To be suspected, framed to make women false.” He is attractive and friendly, but he also has his faults. He admits that he has “very poor and unhappy brains for drinking,” meaning that he is susceptible to foolish behavior when drunk. Iago goads him into drinking, and Cassio behaves so recklessly that he is released from duty. Drinking too much and acting out under the influence is very common now as well as then.
Unfortunately, a number of us have been acquainted with people like Iago, and some may even identify with him. He says, “I am not what I am.” These individuals mask their true motives and feelings from others, even their friends. Sometimes they sabotage other people without reason or out of mere jealousy or spite.
Finally, Othello, the tragic hero, falls due to his own unseen weaknesses. In war, he is calm and confident, and in love he initially respects Desdemona. However, Iago is able to use Othello’s deep insecurities against him, suggesting racist and misogynistic reasons for Desdemona’s infidelity. All of us have secret fears that might be hidden even from us. Shakespeare uses many dramatic elements to reveal truths about life, and his excellent characterizations are one of them.